TRUMANSBURG, N.Y.—The Ulysses Philomathic Library in Trumansburg recently hired Laura Mielenhausen as Library Director, in hopes of making the library more accessible.
Mielenhausen grew up in Rochester, New York and graduated from SUNY-Potsdam, then taught music for a year, only to realize it was not the right field for her. At her partner’s suggestion, she went back to school and got her Master’s degree in library science, hoping to work with the public, particularly youths, in a way that combines her love of reading, music and helping others.
“It just felt like the right thing to combine all of these interests that I had but not be like a formal teacher of these things,” Mielenhausen said. “I really like to have a job that you kind of don’t know what you’re going to get, you go in and have unexpected questions that come in, you’re helping people. I really like the feeling of helping someone achieve something they came in for even if it’s something simple like trying to make a photocopy.”
Mielenhausen’s most recent job was as a senior librarian based in Hennepin County Library in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She started searching for work in New York earlier this year, wanting to be closer to her family after not having seen them for a long time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mielenhausen competed with nine other candidates for the position, which was first posted in June. She was one of six candidates who participated in a Zoom interview in July, which the library’s board presided over and members of the public attended. She then flew from Minneapolis to Ithaca on Aug. 11 to take part in an in-person with library staff and make a presentation to the community, as one of two finalists for the position.
Steven Knapp, president of the library’s board of trustees, said the board was responsible for making a hiring decision, with the search committee gathering all the evaluation information from the library staff and community, then making a recommendation to the board, which chose who to hire. According to him, everyone involved agreed that Mielenhausen was the best choice.
“She was the one that was essentially recommended by the staff, and by the community and by the search committee,” Knapp said. “It was an agreement on all counts.”
Mielenhausen replaces Ksana Broadwell, who stepped down from her role to spend more time with her family. Knapp said the pandemic has been a stressful time for many people, especially Broadwell and those with similar jobs.
“I don’t think people realize how much stress that we’re all just getting used to,” Knapp said, “just because of all the challenges that are out there. I think it’s become challenging for a lot of people in so many roles.”
According to Cynthia Mannino, a member of the library’s board of trustees who chaired the search committee, Broadwell’s last day will be on Oct. 30, thus resulting in a significant amount of overlap with Mielenhausen, who is expected to arrive in Tompkins County and begin her duties as library director on the week of Oct. 11.
As with those in charge of other public places, keeping library staff safe from COVID is a top priority for Mielenhausen, who notes that while patrons may only spend a brief time in the library, the staff are there all day. Building off her predecessor’s efforts over the past year and a half, Mielenhausen expects patrons to wear face masks while in the library, plans to hold board meetings over Zoom, and will adjust her plans based on the number of COVID cases and scientists’ recommendations.
“We all want this pandemic to be over,” Mielenhausen said.
Mielenhausen plans to look at the library’s budget and find out where she can get more grants to do innovative programming for the community. To her, part of the reason why libraries are so important is because they are one of the few places people can gather in public without having to spend any money.
“You don’t have to buy anything to be there,” Mielenhausen said. “You don’t have to buy a drink to use the restroom type of thing that you would have to in a coffee shop. I think because they are free, all people are welcome, all ideas are welcome, that is so important to have in a community, as a gathering space.”
Libraries can also help provide many residents who may not own computers access to the internet, a role that Mielenhausen considers important. She praised Broadwell for a program to provide laptops to allow people to use laptops to access the internet from the library’s parking lot even while the library was closed.
“I think that that is just a great example of a way that you can be creative with technology and meet the needs of the community,” Mielenhausen said.
Mielenhausen intends to reach out to library patrons and, when possible, go out into the community to meet them.
“They shouldn’t have to come into the library to know what’s going on with the library,” Mielenhausen said.
While Mielenhausen is confident in herself, she still believes it will take a while for her to become fully accustomed to her new professional surroundings. Hennepin County Library is a larger library under the county government, whereas Ulysses Philomathic Library is chartered as an Association Library and is run by a board of directors. As such, she says she will be patient and accept that it may take her some time to learn the ropes.
“They say it can take a full year to really feel like you’re confident in your new role, especially if you’ve moved to a new town for a job, ” Mielenhausen said.
Knapp believes Mielenhausen will be able to meet the high standards set by her predecessors.
“We’ve been very fortunate at UPL to have a really strong series of library directors that have all brought the library into new directions, and I think Laura is going to fit into that role as well,” Knapp said.
Mannino said the members of the public who sat in on Mielenhausen’s Zoom interview had a positive impression of her, so Mannino is confident that Mielenhausen will be well received.
“I look forward to the building being fully open, Laura starting, and the public having a chance to meet her in person,” Mannino said.